A number of the best golfing venues in the United States can be found in and around Sheboygan, Wisconsin. However, unless you have a thing for dairy farms, there is little else to recommend this location aside from the fabulous golf. Erin Hills, site of the 2017 U.S. Open is less than an hour away, with the three other Kohler courses (Blackwolf Run River and Meadow Valleys, and Whistling Straits Irish) offering a true mecca for linksters. In case you are wondering, the Kohler name, in fact, does relate to the company that provides those fancy fixtures in your bathroom.
No other location I know has done a worse job naming courses. Is it Meadows or Valleys? Am I playing Straits Straits or Straits Irish? It can be a bit confusing. However, the people of Wisconsin, and specifically those working the resort are the nicest you will find. If comfort food is your thing, bratwurst and cheese dominate the menus. (Note: the best Sausage and Corn Chowder can be found at the Blackwolf Run restaurant.) Ultimately, it is a golfer’s paradise, and while I am sure the spa is great, I would not necessarily bring my non-golfing spouse; especially since the packages encourage 36 holes per day.
As for the golf, Whistling Straits Straits is the crown jewel of Kohler. This venue has hosted several “major” PGA tournaments, and is hosting the PGA Championship next week. Despite the reference to a “links” design, the Straits course is nothing like the pros played last month on the Old Course, nor is it similar to Chambers Bay, site of the U.S. Open. There is a clear demarcation of the greens and you will not see nearly as many 90 foot putts from off the green. The course boasts over 1,000 bunkers although less than half even remotely come into play. These bunkers are played as waste areas by the daily golfers but, as Dustin Johnson can attest, are sand traps for the pros. Most of the bunkers/waste areas present minimal problems, however, Number 6 offers a bunker just short of the green that can be a nightmare. As this is a drivable par 4, the pros need to very wary. Check out the hole by hole summary here.
Many of the holes abut Lake Michigan with shots missing fairways or greens to the east likely to wend their way down a steep slope. You can only hope that one of the many bunkers captures your ball before it finds its way to a watery grave. Several of the greens are situated on precipices above the lake. Straits is a difficult golf course for the average player from the short tees. From the tips the pros will be challenged. Success in the last two “majors”, which were played on more traditional links courses, should not translate into success at Whistling Straits, although the great leaderboards at those previous events should be duplicated again, as Straits will demand the best. Having played Chambers Bay, the Old Course and Whistling Straits I found the latter to be the most challenging.
Absolutely Must Play? Yes, for the great golf holes, major championship venue and terrific people. My rating: 9+ out of 10.
Weekly Observation: I cannot believe we are already at the final major. The previous three were great and I am expecting The PGA Championship to be amazing as well.
Paul Laubach is completely unqualified to provide expertise with respect to golf course rankings and design, however, he is a highly opinionated golf addict who believes everyone should be entitled to his thoughts. He has recently released Confessions of a Golfaholic: A Guide to Playing America’s Top 100 Public Golf Courses; now available in hardcover edition from Elevate Publishing. Please visit tophundredgolf.com regularly for more (im)practical information.
Image of The Straits from http://www.americanclubresort.com/golf/whistling-straits/the-straits/the-straits-hole-by-hole